Green card holders are free to travel abroad, but if you spend more than a year at a time outside the United States you could be found to have abandoned your green card status. To avoid that, you can request a re-entry permit before taking a lengthy trip outside the United States.
What is a green card re-entry permit?
The re-entry permit is simply a travel document that allows green card holders to maintain their U.S. residence when traveling abroad for periods of up to 2 years. You can only apply for a re-entry permit from within the United States, so it’s important to make sure you understand the details before setting off on your travels.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- What is a re-entry permit?
- Who needs a re-entry permit?
- How do you apply for a re-entry permit?
- How do you use a re-entry permit?
- Can you extend a re-entry permit?
- Special considerations
Remember, you can also avoid travel headaches by seeking U.S. citizenship. As a citizen, you can travel for as long as you want without needing special documentation. For a flat rate, Boundless helps you complete your entire naturalization application, including all supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support from the moment your application is filed until you obtain U.S. citizenship. Learn more, or check your eligibility today.
A re-entry permit is a travel document that looks a bit like a U.S. passport. It’s issued to green card holders who want to maintain U.S. residence during a lengthy trip abroad.
The re-entry permit is important because while green card holders can travel freely, they must maintain continuous residence in the United States. If you travel abroad for more than a year, you’ll be assumed to have given up your residence, and your green card could be revoked.
The re-entry permit tells the U.S. government that you intend to return and continue living in the United States after your trip abroad. If you have a valid re-entry permit, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials won’t consider your period of absence from the United States as evidence that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence.
IMPORTANT! Getting a re-entry permit ensures your time outside the United States won’t be counted against you, but you could still be found to have abandoned your residence on other grounds, such as if a CBP official believes you planned to relocate permanently to another country. To avoid that, you should maintain clear connections to the United States during any trips abroad, such as through family ties, tax filings, a U.S. mailing address, or a U.S. employer.
The main reason to obtain a re-entry permit is to show that you intend to maintain your green card status when traveling abroad. If you’re a green card holder, you should apply for a re-entry permit if you plan on traveling outside the United States for more than a year but less than 2 years.
For trips of less than a year, your green card will remain valid without the need for a re-entry permit, although you should still take care to maintain clear ties to the United States (such as through your work, family connections, or home address) while traveling abroad.
For trips of more than 2 years, or if you didn’t apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the United States, you won’t be able to obtain a re-entry permit. Instead, you’ll need to apply for an SB-1 visa (also called a “returning resident visa”) at your nearest U.S. consulate or embassy before returning to the United States.
If you’ve applied for a green card but haven’t yet received one, you aren’t eligible for a re-entry permit. Instead you should apply for Advance Parole if you need to travel abroad, even if only for a short trip. Learn more here.
IMPORTANT! You can also use a re-entry permit as a travel document if you can’t obtain a passport from your home country. Many countries will let you use a re-entry permit like a passport, and will stamp it with their visas and entry and exit stamps. Make sure to check whether the countries you intend to visit accept U.S. re-entry permits as valid travel documents.
To apply for a re-entry permit, you must file Form I-131 (“Application for Travel Document”). This form collects details about your planned trip, your foreign travel since becoming a green card holder, and whether you’ve been properly filing U.S. tax returns.
You must file form I-131 from within the United States, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends filing at least 60 days before you travel abroad. That’s because you’ll be called for a biometrics appointment at your local U.S. office, and your application is likely to be denied if you’ve already left the country and can’t attend the appointment.
You don’t have to remain in the United States until your re-entry permit is approved. Once you’ve filed Form I-131 and attended your biometrics appointment, you’re free to travel abroad. You can indicate on Form I-131 if you’d like USCIS to send your re-entry permit for collection at a U.S. consulate or embassy in the country to which you’re traveling.
The Re-Entry Permit Fee
The fee for filing Form I-131 is $575, and if you are between the ages of 14 and 79 you must also pay a biometric fee of $85.
How to check the status of your re-entry permit application
To check the status of your application, use the USCIS online case status checker. You’ll need the receipt number from the notice you received after filing your Form I-131.
If you’ll be picking up your re-entry permit from a U.S. embassy or consulate, you can contact them directly to check whether they’ve received your permit. Some embassies and consulates also have online tools where you can check whether your paperwork is ready for collection.
When you return to the United States after a long absence, you should carry your valid re-entry permit with you, as well as your green card and passport. The CBP official at the airport or other point of entry will inspect your papers, ask questions about your journey, and – providing everything is in order – readmit you to the United States.
The re-entry permit for green card holders tells the CBP official not to consider your absence from the United States as evidence that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence. However, a re-entry permit doesn’t guarantee you the right to re-enter the United States. If a CBP official finds other reasons to suspect that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence then you could face further questioning.
Green card holders are facing increasing scrutiny when they travel abroad, even with re-entry permits. Getting U.S. citizenship is often the best way to ensure you can travel and return to the United States without facing awkward questions. Learn more about how Boundless can help with your naturalization application, or check your eligibility for U.S. citizenship today.
You can’t renew or extend a re-entry permit, so if your current permit is due to expire then you’ll need to return to the United States and apply for a new one. Remember that you must be physically present in the United States when you file Form I-131, and also for your biometrics appointment. You’ll also have to surrender your existing re-entry permit when you file for a new permit.
There’s no official limit on how many times you can apply for a re-entry permit. However, if you’ve spent more than 4 of the previous 5 years since gaining a green card outside the United States, you’ll only be issued a re-entry permit valid for a single year. (Exceptions to this rule are made for U.S. government employees, elite athletes, and in certain other cases.)
Bear in mind, too, that if you’re a conditional permanent resident, you can’t be issued a re-entry permit that’s valid for longer than the remaining period of your conditional green card. Spending significant time outside the United States could also complicate the process of upgrading to a full green card, especially if you’re living apart from your sponsoring spouse or relative.
If you need more flexibility, consider applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as you’re eligible. As a citizen, you won’t have to worry about re-entry permits or other travel restrictions. Ready to find out more about how Boundless can help? Check your eligibility for naturalization today.
- Be sure to keep filing your tax returns as a U.S. resident during the whole period of your absence from the United States. Failing to do so could be taken as evidence that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence, even if you’ve obtained a re-entry permit.
- If you spend more than a year outside the United States, you won’t be considered continuously resident for the purposes of gaining U.S. citizenship. That means you’ll face a longer wait before you can apply for naturalization. In certain cases you can file Form N-470 (“Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes”) to avoid losing the time you’ve accrued towards citizenship eligibility.